MAJOR work to relocate the car park and remove a public toilet block at the popular New Forest beauty spot of Hatchet Pond will go ahead this winter, Forestry England has confirmed.
The actions, part of a multi-agency scheme to protect the important freshwater habitat, have been endorsed by the East Boldre and Beaulieu parish councils.
Work at the pond started in 2019 but unprecedented pressures during the easing of lockdown has accelerated the plans by Forestry England, the Freshwater Habitats Trust and Natural England.
Hatchet Pond is the New Forest’s largest body of fresh water and home to some of the rarest wetland plants and freshwater animals, long since lost from many other parts of the UK.
East Boldre Parish Council chair Cllr Kevin Holmes said: “During the summer the pond was being used as an activity area with kayaking, swimming and paddleboarding.
“There are signs up asking people not to swim but these were ignored. Because it is a large body of water, people seemed to forget it is a wildlife conservation area.
“We also had problems with wild camping. It is a very fragile area and was being completely spoilt.”
The pond has the highest possible conservation status as both a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area for Conservation, so maintaining its environmental health is a legal requirement. Analysis has shown the water, and plants and wildlife which rely on it are in decline.
Actions to improve the water quality, which began last year, included an environmental DNA survey of the fish followed by the removal of non-native carp – a process repeated in 2020.
The removal of the toilet block, which has been closed since it was damaged during a storm earlier in the year, was also supported by East Boldre Parish Council as a way of shortening people’s visits.
Cllr Holmes said: “The toilet was in a very bad state of repair anyway so we welcome its removal. The problem with having a toilet was that it made Hatchet Pond an all-day visitor destination, which was adding to the erosion and pollution.”
Cllr Frederick Norris, chair of Beaulieu Parish Council, added: “The toilet block was in a pretty bad state of repair and I felt having facilities there was perhaps encouraging wild campers.
“New Forest District Council do an excellent job with maintaining our public conveniences in Beaulieu so I don’t think that removing the toilets will cause too many problems.”
The car park will be returned to grassland and a new gravel space provided on higher ground further away from the pond.
A spokesperson for Forestry England confirmed: “The car park here will be closed during these specific works, which we hope to undertake this winter.”
The restoration project is being funded with an Environment Agency grant. Forestry England will also pay for improved signage and public information boards.
Bruce Rothnie, Forestry England’s deputy surveyor of the New Forest, said: “Hatchet Pond is an incredibly important place for nature and wildlife. It is one of the few places across the country where you can still find so many rare species in one place. It is also a special place for people to enjoy and appreciate nature and its beauty.
“Working together with other organisations involved in looking after the Forest we are taking action to help protect this incredibly valuable location, build wider awareness of its importance and ensure its long-term survival.”